We present a detailed analysis of the microstructure in the shallow part (100–580m) of the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) ice core at Dome Concordia. In the Holocene ice, the average grain-size increases with depth. This is the normal grain-growth process driven by a reduction of the total grain-boundary energy. Deeper, associated with the Holocene–Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) climatic transition, a sharp decrease of the average grain-size is observed. to explain modifications to the microstructure with climatic change, we discuss the role of soluble and insoluble (microparticles) impurities in the grain-growth process of Antarctic ice, coupled with an analysis of the pinning of grain boundaries by microparticles. Our data indicate that high soluble impurity content does not necessarily imply a slowing-down of grain-growth kinetics, whereas the pinning of grain boundaries by dust particles located along the boundaries does explain modifications to the microstructure (small grain-sizes; change in grain-size distributions, etc.) observed in volcanic ash layers or dusty LGM ice.Moreover, classical mean-field models of grain-boundary pinning are in good quantitative agreement with the evolution of grain-size along the EPICA ice core. This suggests a major role for dust in the modification of shallow polar ice microstructure.